Interest in E. coli vaccine, questions on cost

by Bryan Salvage
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BELLEVILLE, ONTARIO – A recent survey conducted among a random sample of 771 Canadian beef and dairy farmers in all regions of Canada shows most are willing to implement changes on the farm to prevent contamination by E. coli O157, according to Bioniche Life Sciences Inc.

Bioniche developed and licensed (in Canada) the world's first vaccine to reduce the shedding by cattle of E. coli O157. Econiche received full licensing approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in October, 2008. The U.S. Department of Agriculture cleared the path for a conditional license for the vaccine in February, 2008, and the company is awaiting issuance of that license.

More than half of the producers surveyed expressed a willingness to vaccinate, but there was sensitivity to the potential cost of a vaccination program. Those surveyed believe the cost of a national vaccination program, if it were to be implemented, should be shared between government and producers; 88% of respondents expressing willingness to vaccinate if the vaccine was provided free. Food safety, the potential impact of recalls and access to export markets are their main reasons for supporting vaccinations.

Using chlorinated water, bacteriophages and probiotics helps control the organisms, but vaccination provides the greatest reduction in fecal shedding, Dr. Roy Lewis, a large animal veterinarian in Westlock, Alberta, said in a recent Canadian beef trade magazine. "With the vaccine, you are hitting the problem at its very source, before the bacteria numbers get too high," he added.

Econiche, developed by Bioniche, has potential to significantly reduce the amount of E. coli O157 shed into the environment by beef and dairy cattle, the company claims. On-farm interventions to reduce the shedding of E. coli O157 by cattle have the potential to reduce food and water contamination and the consequences associated with human infection with the deadly bacteria.

U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Services developed a risk-assessment method to estimate how much human illness caused by E. coli O157 can be prevented through the use of "pre-harvest interventions" such as vaccination. Researchers created two economic production functions where the input was the number of vaccinated cattle and the output was human illness prevented.

Although a hypothetical case study, it showed "... vaccinating the entire U.S. herd at a cost of between $2.29 and $9.14 per unit [depending on overall effectiveness of the vaccine] would be a cost-effective intervention for preventing E. coli O157:H7 illness in humans," the company pointed out.

Econiche is manufactured in the Bioniche production facility in Belleville, Ontario, where a $25-million expansion is taking place, supported by the Ontario and Canadian governments. Vaccine supply will be limited during this manufacturing expansion period.

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